Annual Queens Museum symposium stimulates and educates

Artist Francois Ricles Gracia’s painting adapts and modernizes the coat of arms on the Haitian flag.
Photo by Tequila Minsky
By Tequila Minsky

Hosting topical symposia puts the vital relationship between the Queens Museum and the local Haitian community on display.

Last week’s featured the museum’s L’Education du Regard (Educating for Deeper Understanding) program, an annual event has been held there for over a decade, initiated by architect and urban planner Etienne Telemaque and later joined by artist Patricia Brintle.

“I handle art and Etienne handles architecture and other content,” said Brintle, a Whitestone resident and painter who wrangles other artists to participate so a mini-exhibition is also part of the symposium.

Brintle expounded on the topics of years’ past — water systems, electricity, transportation and sanitation. The symposiums all add breadth to understanding the issues.

One year, there was a heated discussion on the importance of parks with the focus on Martissant Park. The issue raised: why put a park in the middle of a slum?

Experts reiterated how putting a park in a “terrible area” breathes air (and life) both literally and metaphorically into its neighborhood. It’s also about saving the environment.

In the case of Martissant Park, situated in the poor, crowded neighborhood of Martissant, there is a medicinal garden, an educational environmental center on the premises, and people can get cuttings from the gardeners.

“Our audience of Haitians and friends are happy that people care and that there are symposiums about these subjects,” said Brintle. “For a lot, they’re hearing about a particular issue for the first time.”

This year’s “Le Champs-de-Mars: A Public Sector to be Preserved Absolutely,” held on June 3, focused on an area of Port-au-Prince that is a series of downtown parks split by wide boulevards, almost like the Washington Mall in function.

Found there are statues of Haiti’s founding fathers: Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines on horseback, Alexander Petion, and Henri Christophe, collectively known as Place des Héros de l’Independence (Place of the Heroes of Independence). It is also where the wonderful history museum Musee du Pantheon National Haitien is located and the site of the destroyed-by-earthquake demolished National Palace.

Artist and author George Patrick Gaspard spoke of how in his growing-up years Le Champs de Mars (Chanmas, in Haitian Creole) existed as a Sunday park of walking, congregating, children riding bicycles and breathing fresh air.

During the afternoon, Haitian authors Gaspard and Eddy Mesidor, caricaturist Castro Desroches, and poet Janie Bogart sold and signed their books. A last minute cancellation of scheduled speaker Patrick Durandis, Haiti’s Director General of the Institute of Saving the National Patrimony ISPAN, disappointed attendees but the show went on.

The program became a panel and general discussion with attendees adding their opinions of what needs to be done to restore the area to its former stature in Haiti’s urban life. Preservation is not fostered in the population of Haiti, says Brintle, on the need for education in this regard.

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